Merry crashmas


This is not what you want your car to look like when you arrive home from visiting relatives for the holidays, especially when you left it innocently and intactly parked in front of your house:


We got home from the airport at 1:30 in the morning. The white car, known as the Mouse (a name it came to us with), had been relocated several
feet east (backward) from where we left it several days earlier . . .
and it was not in the same condition. We deliberately did not look at the car when we first got home, because (1) it was dark, (2) we were tired, and (3) we knew, thanks to friends, that although the house was fine the Mouse was "not so fine."

Here’s another view of "not so fine," in full daylight:


Despite "not so fine," here’s a series of good-news items related to the Mouse’s changed circumstances:

  • No person or critter was hurt in the crash, although I’ll bet a couple were pretty shook up (driver and passenger in the impacting car).
  • The driver left a note and phone numbers.
  • One of our neighbors saw the whole event and recorded details, just in case (thanks, M).
  • Our house-caring friends noticed the damage when they checked the premises after dark on Christmas eve (apparently about five hours after the accident . . . the basics were noticeable even with minimal illumination), found the note from the driver (thanks, K), and told us about the situation by e-mail so we could prepare ourselves and start playing phone tag with the driver (thanks, J).

Here are some observations we made about the scene:

  • The front license plate was found in the snow about four feet in front of the vehicle.
  • There are shards of red plastic scattered in the snow over an area extending several feet in front of the car. Red. Brake lights. Not from our car, of course, so from the other car, so its rear end apparently hit our car’s driver’s-side lights, bumper, and grill. REAR impact? Interesting.
  • The bumper is still attached at the corner that appears to have sustained the most damage, and is detached at the other side.
  • The grill is broken in its center and on the driver’s side.
  • Major impact to the frame underneath the bumper seems to have been pretty close to right in the center, although the Mouse as a whole was apparently shifted backward by several feet while its front was also shoved toward the passenger side (away from the street) by maybe 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm). Considering the extent of the jump backwards, it stayed pretty straight. Must have been hit quite squarely.
  • No fluid leakage (from radiator or elsewhere). Sturdy car.

We still don’t know whether the Mouse can be adequately repaired (largely a question of frame and suspension, not yet evaluated), but here’s the overview and the really fortunate stuff. We’re working to focus on the fortunate stuff.

A driver was apparently headed east on our street in a sedan, hit a patch of ice, and put a foot on the brake. (Drivers in the Midwest, New England, and other places where the snow stays on the ground for weeks or months at a time know—at the reflex level—that you don’t touch either brake or accelerator when you hit ice; many people around here, where the snow most often quickly melts away, haven’t developed ice-appropriate split-second reactions.)

When the driver applied the brake, the sedan started skidding and rotating. By the time it reached our car, it was still moving east but its front end was facing west. The skidding car connected with the Mouse back-end-first (red plastic) and the sedan’s trunk was shoved in just about to its rear window at the moment that the Mouse was catapulted several feet backward, its license plate was ripped off and dropped in (or flung into) the snow, and its front bumper was removed from all but one of the bumper-mooring points (we hear that there was also damage to the front end of the sedan, although we don’t know how that occurred).

When we think of a car skidding on ice down our normally very quiet street, we think of what it might have hit that would have stopped it. (Living beings are excluded from this list, because they would have been mowed down but wouldn’t have brought the skidding vehicle to a halt.)

It could have hit:

  • a tree,
  • a streetlight,
  • a house,
  • a car.

Of all those items, the only one that would yield upon impact, and thus reduce the potential for injury to the people in the skidding car, was another car, preferably parked and unoccupied.

And that’s what happened.

We now have a rental car, courtesy of the other folks’ insurance company, and their adjuster was here today to do an initial evaluation of the damage to our car.

Yet because of what else might have happened in this situation, we’re looking at our ailing auto as a hero of sorts. It probably saved the driver and passenger from some physical harm.

That perspective helps ease the pain of seeing our car in such a state. We’re really glad we were out of town and didn’t have to watch or listen to the actual crash.

I’ll talk about knitting in an upcoming post before long. I did get some knitting done during our trip.

Today was consumed by calls and visits from insurance people, the delivery of two pallets of books during the adjuster’s visit (a reprinting of Knitting in the Old Way, by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts), and my daughter’s getting stuck (and unstuck) in deep snow with my car while she was on her way to work at just about the same time. (The white car in the photos here is the one she mostly uses.)

A good quote for the new year

And here’s a quote I happened across today, that seems just slightly ironic following the story about our car, but might set the tone for a rewarding and productive 2008:

"I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty
to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The
world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but
also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker." —Helen Keller

A thought for the new year

When I was sixteen and learning to drive, my dad took me to an empty shopping mall parking lot on a winter Sunday (in the Dark Ages, malls were closed on Sundays). He had me accelerate and then jam on the brakes, then recover from the skid. It was a really good teaching technique. It was scary. Terrifying. But also fun, once I got the hang of it.

Skidding and recovery weren’t on the driver’s license test, but when you went to the Elston Avenue site in Chicago (which we did the first time) parallel parking was, so I flunked the test although I managed to get the ’62 Chrysler (it was all white; no red top) parked between the orange cones anyway. I got it 12 inches (30 cm) from the curb and it needed to be less than 6 inches (15 cm) away.

Then Dad taught me how to really parallel park.

(The Chrysler was never easy to parallel park. One of my few car-damaging incidents involved peeling off a chrome strip on the passenger side while getting it out of a parallel spot on a narrow street next to the high school, on a rare occasion when I drove there for winter-vacation backstage work on a theatrical presentation. I hardly ever drove to school because I didn’t have a car. Nor did much of anybody else in those days. Mostly I walked the three miles to and from school, or took the bus if I had to, although I could walk in just about the same amount of time as it took to wait for the bus . . . and in the winter, walking was a whole lot warmer than standing around. We had to wear skirts to school in those days. Even at -25 degrees F [-31 degrees C]. Yes, public school. No, that isn’t a good idea. One of the reasons I went to the college I chose was because the women were allowed to wear jeans to class in the winter.)

The second time I took my test, we went to a different site—Libertyville. None of the testing sites was near where we lived. They were all at least a half-hour away. This time Dad sent me and my mother to the testing facility in a car that had a misbehaving ignition. I think (this may be legend, may be truth) it had been built as the prototype, intended for display at the car shows, and somehow Dad managed to acquire it, even though it had some mechanical quirks, not having been a finished design off the assembly line. (Dad’s first recognizable word when he was a toddler was "car," and he was always magnetically attracted to interesting, preferably high-powered, cars.) Before we left for the testing facility, he showed us how to hot-wire it. We got the car running but the examiner wouldn’t let me take the test and flunked me instead. Even though it was Mom who did the actual hot-wiring right there in front of his eyes. It wasn’t me. Although Dad had showed me, too. As a safety precaution. Engine-access variety. So I could be sure not to get stranded in that car.

I got my license on the third try . . . I don’t remember which testing site we went to; I was too scared I would flunk again . . . parallel parking was not required, and I don’t remember which car I drove. In Illinois in those days, they’d only give you three tries before you had to wait a long time before testing again, maybe until you were fifty.

Conclusion du jour

When skidding, make no sudden movements. Your primary tool is the steering, but don’t do anything sudden or rash with any of the controls. Ease off the accelerator just a bit. Although ABS systems (which were invented very recently by some standards) may be handled differently, in general do not let your foot get near the brake. Steer the car in the direction that you want it to go (this is sometimes called "steering into the skid," but it’s easier to remember as "in the direction you want to go").

Ideally, practice this a lot in a safe area before you need to do it in a real driving situation.


1 thought on “Merry crashmas”

  1. You tell a story very well. You had me laughing about something that is clearly absurd, but not actually funny. Thanks for the chuckle, anyway.

    I have learned about ice-steering but fortunately do not have to practice it too much. Lansing is not very hilly which is also a big plus when things get slick.

    Sounds like you *are* keeping a good attitude. I’m working on doing that more in my life, I can be such a sourpuss especially when the sun don’t shine for weeks at a time. December is bleak midwinter in Lansing, we often get just a tiny percentage of sunshine this time of year.

    At least we had fun making a snowman on the 1st of the year. I think that is a good way to start, anyway. A little fun during the hour or two of sunshine we had that day.

    I hope your trip was fun.

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